Thankfulness or Faithfulness. A contagious or infectious Church? 1 Thessalonians 1
Crazy Aunt Maud received a letter one morning, and upon reading it burst into floods of tears. “What’s the matter?” asked her companion. “Oh dear,” sobbed Auntie, “It’s my favourite nephew. He’s got three feet”. “Three feet?” exclaimed her friend. “Surely that’s not possible?” “Well,” said Auntie, “His mother’s just written to tell me he’s grown another foot !”
I guess that with Modern Technology many of us have lost the art of writing. With the invention of the phone we began to send less letters, it became easier and quicker to phone. Even phone conversations as such are getting less with the use of e-mails, texting, Twitter,Ffacebook and Skype. I believe we must move with the times and I’m thankful for such forms of communication, especially when I want to speak to many friends and relations worldwide. No longer do I get phone calls from one of my Pastor friends in the USA at 3am in the morning as he did when he forgot about time zones.
However I have some sadness that generally our greetings whether spoken or electronically send often start with just Hi. Especially as we read the way Paul starts nearly every letter with such words as Dearly beloved in Christ, grace and peace be with you or something very similar. Much better than Hi or dear John! Every chapter in the book of 1 Thessalonians also ends with thoughts on the Second Coming. This is a theme that is interwoven throughout the entire book of 1 Thessalonians. This message is designed to teach us how to be ready. I believe Jesus is getting ready to come back for His Church. He is coming back for His bride, for those who really love Him and are looking forward to seeing Him.
In today’s reading not only does Paul give the church in Thessalonica such a heart felt greeting but continues by giving them a glowing commendation thanking them for their work produced by faith, their labour prompted by love and their endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. His words being endorsed by his co-workers in Christ Silas and Timothy.
I think it’s important to give you an insight to Thessalonica, now often shorten to Solonica, as it was in those days. It was the capital and largest city of the Roman province of Macedonia (Greece). Not to be confused with modern Macedonia formed with the division of the former Yugoslavia. The most important Roman highway (the Egnatian Way) extending from Rome all the way to the Orient, and I don’t mean Leyton Orient, bless them! I guess they will be playing against QPR next session, ran right through Thessalonica. This highway along with the city’s thriving sea port made Thessalonica one of the wealthiest and most flourishing trade centres in the Roman Empire. Recognised as a free city, Thessalonica was allowed self rule and was exempt from most of the restrictions placed by Rome on other cities in the Roman Empire. However with it’s international flavour came many pagan religions and cultural influences, sounds a bit like Chadwell Heath doesn’t it? Although this challenged the faith of the young Christians there, thankfully they stayed faithful to their new found faith. It was also the home of the first Christian Church plant!
Today both men and women are encouraged to examine our physical bodies for signs of death threatening diseases as early detection can often save our lives. But how often do we examine our spiritual condition?
If a letter from St. Paul about our spiritual development and condition dropped though our letterbox or internet mailbox today how would we feel as we opened it? With fear and trembling like when we open our credit card statement or a hospital result or with such a confident joy as we would open a birthday card or a letter from National Savings notify us of a premium bond win?
In Paul’s commendations of the Thessalonians we have some standards that we can and should measure both our individual and corporate lives by. Does my life cause others to thank God? Do they see in us work produced by faith , labour prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope? Are we a good example to others? Have we turned from those things God would have us turn from? Have we turned to God’s will with whole-hearted commitment? Have we allowed foreign religions, cultural influences or liberal ideologies to water down God’s word and wander of his pathways of life to suit? Are we longing for His second coming or distracted by all kinds of other things?
Although physical examination is very important, ignore spiritual examination at your peril. However physically healthy we think we are the stark reality is one day we will face death. Itâs then that our past spiritual condition comes into play. When we come face to face with God, will he like Paul, be able to thank us for not just listening to his teaching but acting it out?
The other point I want to bring out from our reading v7 -9 is that by their example they shone out not only locally but everywhere.
Bill Hybels, you may have heard Martin mention him just occasionally, says, “God wants us to become contagious [believers] who will first catch his love and then urgently and infectiously offer it to all who are willing to consider it. This is his primary plan, the one Jesus modeled powerfully: to spread God’s grace and truth person to person until there’s an epidemic of changed lives around the world” (Bill Hybels, Contagious Christians, 23).
If there was ever a contagious congregation, it was that little church in Thessalonica. Their love for Jesus was contagious, infectious, so much so that they were known throughout the Roman Empire. They were contagious believers, they caught the love of Jesus and then urgently and infectiously offered it to anyone who was willing to consider it. Here also was a church who realized they were being watched. They gave the spectators quite a performance – reputation spread. Paul hears about their reputation/testimony and writes to them. It is a lesson for us to heed. Our reputation is at stake. The world is watching us. They need to see a difference in us.
Jesus as a Jew would have spent time in the Temple praying and reading the scriptures but most of his ministry was seen outside, words with action. Sometime the best way to express our faith is through specific, concrete, and practical works.
When John Wesley the famous preacher and prolific hymn writer was six-years-old the parsonage in which he lived with his family caught fire. The alarm was given and the parents thought everyone was out of the house safely. But when they started counting, they discovered that one of the children was missing. And, to their horror, they saw young John Wesley at an upper story window, caught in the burning building. The father, a devout, scholarly Anglican minister, immediately dropped to his knees, praying that God would save the boy. His mother, who not only was a person of great faith but also a very practical woman, immediately ran next door, got a neighbour with a ladder and, working with the neighbour, rescued her son from the flaming house. There are times when the best way to express your faith is to get off your knees, go get a neighbour with a ladder, and do what has to be done in a given situation. Someone once said âApart from works of love, your faith is dead — as “lifeless as a corpse.”
Frances Bacon said; “It is not what men eat, but what they digest that makes them strong; not what we gain, but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read, but what we remember that makes us learned; not what we preach or pray, but what we practice and believe that makes us Christians”.
I think as a church although not yet perfect, we do have much to be thankful for. Yet as I prepared this talk I felt the Holy Spirit was prompting me to consider are we a contagious or an infectious church. Certainly we have a reputation especially amongst the local Christian fraternity, that’s why much of our recent growth has come from dissatisfied Christians leaving other fellowships to join us. This in itself is not a bad thing, after all that’s how Maggie and I ended up here. I believe God is building an army of ordinary people and directing gifted people here as part of his strategy. But can we honestly say we are infecting whose who have previously seemed immune to the Gospel message. How many non believers are being added to our number daily as was the case of the early church mentioned in Acts. The difference between being infectious and contagious in general terms is that being contagious means spread by person to person, personal contact. Infectious is spread by other means i.e. though the air or maybe water. I guess we could say any growth by reputation is infectious but personal evangelism is contagious. Does that make sense?
I believe that the God given vision for the rebuilding of our church is so we become more contagious. To enable us to have that personal contact. However we could have the most wonderful facilities and not achieve God’s commission. Why? Because the true church is about the people the fellowship not the buildings. We need to be and display the likeness of Christ, we need to be Spirit filled Christians as were the Thessalonians. People need to see and be drawn in by the beauty and usefulness of Jesus, they need to see that we have something special, something worth having in our lives, not just what our buildings offer. Verse 5 shows us why the Thessalonian Christians were such a shining example. “because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” For us to shine for God we need the word of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that changes people when they believe the gospel, the good news of Jesus. As my life application Bible points out “When we tell others about Christ, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to open their eyes and convince them that they need salvation. His power changes them, not our cleverness or persuasion. Without the work of the Holy Spirit our words are meaningless”.
Bill Hybels also says, “The attitudes and actions of each of Jesus’ followers would either draw people toward a relationship with God or push them further away. So Jesus was pleading with his people, then and now, to live in a way that would draw people toward the Father. How we conduct our daily lives has implications that reach all the way into eternity”.
Although on face value the Thessalonian church seems almost too good to be true, like many of us they were not without doubts and times of questioning. They misinterpreted the promise of new life in Christ. Many wrongly thought they would never die a physical death. Then when they came under persecution often resulting in death, some began to question their faith. Something Paul addresses later in his letter to them. Can I encourage you that if you have doubts or fears not just to walk away but talk them through with Martin or any other mature Christian. Although none of us know all the answers God’s word and the Holy Spirit can guide and inspire us in the hour of need.
Your friends, relations or neighbours may not thank you for infecting them with your cold or flu but if you infect them with Jesus, I can guarantee they will be eternally grateful, yes both in this life and the next.
Let us pray: Lord we have much to be thankful for in both our own lives and the life of this church. Father forgive us when we have allowed outside influences distract and blow us off the course you want us to take. Lord help us to more enthusiastic more Christ centred, remove barriers that prevent your Holy Spirit working in power, come infect us again so that we might please you and by our example cause an epidemic of faith here in Chadwell Heath and beyond. Amen
A Contagious or Infectious Church?